MARK FRANCOMBE Musician, Filmmaker, Game-designer & Kipple-monger

My Modular Synth

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My modular synth!
The first part of my modular synth was donated to me years ago by a very nice man called Pepe de Juan in Barcelona. I used the synth on a lot of Eardrum stuff (hear the HUGE sequencer line on “A calmer karma” in the mp3 archive) I was foolish and ripped it to pieces and tried to fit it into the rest of my modular, with modules mostly in the Euro rack format, but it wasn’t working, so now I wish I’d left it all together in one box and fixed THAT… I think I have most of the parts, but now I need to make new panels… again—
Anyway, with the formation of “Electricity” the modular has grown exponentially, and I have spent a year basically soldering. My favourite modules are from Mutable Instruments, and Music Things Turing machine and Radio Music modules are pretty much in every patch. Heres some new pictures of the thing, scroll down for more in depth history.
There are some shots showing how I mounted modules into the classic IKEA RAST bedside table, (79kr for a rack aint bad) But recently I have made a huge rack thing, with curve, nt finished, and going to be a pig to move… if it ever does.

Well I always wanted a modular, and have had many synths over the years, but they always got sold and I always regretted it later. To build a modular, is more of your OWN BABY, it can grow with you. Plus, I’ve always been a sucker for the analog sequence. I used to love Tangerine Dream (cos in the beginning they really were not all new age-y and hippy muzak) they were so dark and the simple repetative sequences were very hypnotic. Then Uncle Ian did alot of stuff like this, but with guitars! We were quite influenced by Shrewsbury Band “The Land of Yrx”, who tried to sound like Tand Dream, but due to bad connections and overdriving the mixer, sounded distorted and almost punky. When I heard of the music genre “Power Electronics” I thought of them (when I found out it meant Noise, Merzbow etc… I was disappointed, cos I dont think that stuff is “Powerful” at all, due mainly to the fact that you NEVER play it loud.. its more like ambient music really) SO I imagine a kind of PUNK synthesising, fast and distorted and aggressive. This is what I want to make with this thing.make with this thing.


Pepe de Juan builds a Formant at school in the 80’s
I am building obscure circuits and oscillators and modifies circuits
I visit Barcelona and meets Pepe, our mutual interest in modular synths is revealed, and Pepe unearths his home-made wonder. The Formant.


Pepe surprises me by giving it to me upon my departure from Barcelona – I am embarrassed but have to accept.The Synth (renamed “Pepe”) needs some work after the bumpy journey and is fixed up.
The 90´s
I use it on various tracks in his electronic Eardrum project.(photo taken BEFORE it is taken apart and fixed up – next to my old Akai Sampler and the MS2000R – which is a modern version of a modular, in fact its supposed to be 2 Korg MS20’s and an analog sequencer. Pretty good actually, but not like a real modular!!! )

After some years on NON-use, I decides to fix up the synth, re-rack it, and add to it from the now many commercially available module manufacturers. Modular synths have now become somewhat easier to come by. And most modules available are nearly all compatible. The only incompatibility issues being…
Differing Power Supplies for the modules (+/-15v or +/-12 volts being the 2 main types)
Different sizes patching sockets (1/4″ jack 1/8″ jack or banana plugs)
Physical module sizes. There are quite a few differences here, Some that try to emulate the old Moog style, IE big, Modcan size Eurorack size and Frac rack size.

I had some face plates made for the Formant, (unfortunately BEFORE knowing about all these differences, cos then he would have picked a standard… DOH!

I buy some fantastic Blacet modules and the wondrous (altho BIG (3 U !!!) ) Mobius Sequencer.

(photo shows the Mobius Sequencer at the top, followed by some Blacet modules with the original Formant modules at the bottom, in their new face-plates.)

After going to the Oslo Synth Treff, I decide that I want to start collecting both Blacet AND Doepfer modules. The problem with Doepfer has always been that although the modules themselves are cheap, the PSU and racking system always seemed too expensive, and is different to the Formant/Blacet.However at the synth meet-up I meet Erik Stormer, who is selling some Doepfer modules and says he will build me a PSU. He also persuades me that I should put the Formant back together, AS IT SHOULD BE, as it is a classic and should really remain together, in one box. Well he didn’t say that but, he gives me the idea. This may not be so easy, but as a long term project, it is at least a plan.

I’m really interested in Doepfer modules, they are small, so you can fit a lot into a rack, and apart from all the usual modules (most that I am getting off Erik) there are some very intriguing ones, like 8 bit samplers, random note generators, quantisers, strange trigger modifiers, and all sorts of filters and waveform manglers, that can also be used with external sounds.

The start of something big?.

Heres a new picture.
Starting on the top left there is the MS2000R (want to buy it?) Great, but Im now so into expanding the real modular stuff, I may sell.
Behringer Mixer, piece of shit, but I’m a cheapskate… I know I should get a Mackie, but that out of my range.
The very WONDERFUL Mobius Sequencer. The heart of the system, sending CV and gates of the modular stuff, and midi to the Korg.
The Akai S1000, outdated old and lovely sampler… I use the sine waves… can’t sell it for love now money, It was bought for me by The Cure… Yes really!!! It’s what I bought with the cash I made on the 92 Cure Wish Tour!!! It was the instrument on all the Eardrum stuff.
The current state of the Formant. Now I know that I did this wrong, I’m afraid, I had new panels made by Schaeffer, for ONLY the modules that I use. and really I should have copied the original synth, and just updated the synth itself. This is what I plan to do now, but I need to have a complete set of panels made and can´t afford that.
On the right TOP is the Fat Controller Sequencer, great, but does not send midi clock thru.. so annoying. I use it for the sampler now.
A Simmons digital mixer, used as a sub mixer for the modular. (Why has no-one made something like this recently).
A row of Blacet modules. Mini Wave, Binary Zone, Klangwerk, Frequency divider.
A couple of Paia ADSR´s
The 2 rows of Doepfer stuff. A quantiser, 2 VCO´s, analog sequencer, Random voltages, LFO, Noise, 8bit Sampler, VCF, ring Mod and mixer.


So much has happened since 2010 version. I got into building in a big way, soldering SMD and have a pretty nice synth now. Pepe the original Formant synth is still awaiting some love and attention…. sorry.

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